So-called Blue Lives Matter demonstrators on Saturday took the streets in Philadelphia with police protection as officers attacked and injured some of the peaceful anti-fascists who countered the pro-police action.
The anti-fascists and Blue Lives Matter protesters never interacted. A press release by Philly Socialists claims the Philadelphia Police Department kept the two groups separate to protect the Blue Lives Matter demonstrators. Police arrested 16 anti-fascist counter-protesters. Many were injured during street melees in which officers slammed counter-protesters to the ground because they did not disperse.
This follows July protests in Philadelphia against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where activists protesting the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy were harassed and beaten up by Philadelphia police.
Counter-protesters at Saturday’s Blue Lives Matter march would only speak to Rewire.News anonymously for fear of being targeted.
“We [the counter-protesters] began to march toward the Blue Lives Matter demo around 11 [a.m.],” a male counter-protester who was later arrested told Rewire.News. “We knew we greatly outnumbered them and wanted our presence to be felt by those Far Right [sic]organizers coming to our city.”
“The police kept pushing the Blue Lives [demonstration] north a block, marching west, every time we got close,” the male counter-protester added.
Blue Lives Matter, a pro-police movement formed in 2014 as a reaction to Black Lives Matter following the Ferguson protests, aims to “contradict the anti police philosophy and hatred that Black Lives Matter pushes out,” spokesperson and retired Las Vegas police lieutenant Randy Sutton told Rewire.News last year. State lawmakers, mostly Republicans, have pushed so-called Blue Lives Matter legislation based on the myth that officers are under siege by those protesting the police killings of Black and brown people. The state legislation intends to increase the penalties against those who harm officers, which can criminalize protesters who engage with police at protests. Thirty-two of these bills were introduced across 14 states in 2017, according to the Huffington Post.
Police departments have a history of infiltration by white supremacists. For instance, a sheriff’s department in Los Angeles formed a neo-Nazi gang and terrorized Black and Latino residents before 1991. The Intercept reports that the FBI has investigated how white supremacists infiltrate law enforcement, including issuing a heavily redacted October 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment.
Short for “anti-fascist,” Antifa “is a term to used [sic] describe both individuals opposed to fascism and a loose movement of organizations who engage in direct conflict with fascist and Neo-Nazi organizations,” according to Philly ANTIFA. “While many types of organizations consider their goal to be to fight racism and fascism, ‘Antifa’ as a moniker usually implies the group or person is militant in their analysis and willing to engage in or support those that engage in direct confrontation and disruptive tactics against Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other types of bigots.”
While both protests on Saturday were surrounded by police, counter-protesters were the only ones brutalized. Not only did local law enforcement generalize the entire counter-protest as affiliated with the organization Antifa, but they claimed the counter-protesters began to fight the police.
“On Saturday, August 25, 2018, approximately 11:30am, approximately 75 members of Antifa were in the area of Broad and Arch Street for a protest,” Troy Brown, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson, told Rewire.News in a statement. “During the protest several members begin to fight with police. As a result, a total of 16 people were arrested. Of the 16 arrested, nine were issued citations for Failure to Disperse, and seven were charged with Disorderly Conduct (Misdemeanor 3).”
Meanwhile, video footage posted on social media reveals police officers pinning several counter-protesters to the ground, including somepolice officers using their bikes forcefully.
“We started going north and [the police] grabbed me from behind and they pulled me,” a female counter-protester, arrested in the first group charged with failure to disperse, told Rewire.News. “Then I got bounced around to maybe five different officers before one of them threw me on the ground.”
The demonstrator said a male officer in a white shirt, possibly a sergeant, sat on top of her and mashed her face into the ground. Once the officer pulled her back up, he grabbed her arm, lifted her shoulder up to her ear, and twisted her back, causing tremendous pain. He then used his other hand to pull her shorts all the way up and started pushing her forward.
“I told him that I couldn’t walk because my shorts were cutting into me,” the counter-protester explained. “I said something along the lines, ‘You’re tearing out my vagina.’ He looked at me, said, ‘Does that hurt?’ yanked them again, and pushed me forward into the bus.”
A second male counter-protester, who was arrested in the second round of arrests, said an officer grabbed and confiscated his Antifa flag.
“I got shoved away from the main group into a pile of bikes, and a bunch of them just kind of pounced at me, beat me to the grounds with their shields, started stepping on me, against the bikes,” he told Rewire. “I was holding on to it, and a bunch of them ripped it out, tossed it aside. Then [the officers] turned me over, handcuffed me, and put me on the car.”
Once this counter-protester was in the police van passing the other demonstration, he saw one of the Blue Lives Matter demonstrators holding his Antifa flag. The pro-police protester “saw it as a trophy,” the counter-protester said.
Philly Socialists stated that although police officers fought to prosecute seven counter-protesters for disorderly conduct, the District Attorney’s Office charging unit declined to prosecute those counter protesters, who were held for more than 12 hours, on all counts.
Brown declined to respond to follow-up statement, including a question regarding the Antifa flag that was taken from a counter-protester. A spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner did not provide any statement on Saturday’s demonstrations.